Beyond Skin Using The Arts for Peace | 20th Anniversary

Beyond Skin teaching children to play music | NICRC

Since 2004, the Community Relations Council has provided Beyond Skin with funding and support, empowering the organisation with the resources to use the power of creativity, music and the Arts to foster Good Relations across Northern Ireland. This year the organisation is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

CRC has provided ongoing support to Beyond Skin through its Community Relations/Cultural Diversity Small Grants Scheme

This support has helped Beyond Skin to creatively overcome barriers in society and forge community connections. Following a spike in racial hatred across Northern Ireland in 2004, musician Darren Ferguson founded Beyond Skin, an intersectional art collective dedicated to using music and the arts to build peace. 

“For somebody born during the worst year of the troubles (1972) in Belfast,” Darren says, “for it to be referenced by international press in 2003 as race hate capital was something I was not very proud of. We are better than that. So, I started putting together the elements to do something about it.”

One Giant Leap

Beyond Skin’s first ever project was influenced by a documentary entitled, 1 Giant Leap. CRC funded the film makers and other musicians involved in 1 Giant Leap to do a serious of film screenings, talks and a concert in Belfast 2004.

This then inspired Beyond Skin to create an intercultural music project of their own.

“CRC provided us with funding to hire a recording studio, and we invited people to come and make music, it was as simple as that, and we didn’t know who would come or where they would come from – but an album of music tracks came out of it.

“We worked with Francie McPeake IV, the studio owner, musician, and producer from the well-known McPeake family – and he loved it. It was that excitement of not knowing who was coming through the door – you’d have somebody from Poland playing guitar and someone from Venezuela would come along and put down a rhythm track and we just layered it up.”

The Motion Project became a diversity education tour programme in schools, community groups and festival performances with a large diverse group of musicians. The project ran for eight years.

The 100

Over the years, Beyond Skin has initiated numerous arts projects in Northern Ireland, and further afield, to develop a more peaceful, equal, and intercultural society free from racism and sectarianism. One such notable project is The 100.

“CRC supported us through the Covid-19 pandemic to deliver The 100,” Darren says. “A hundred women of all ages and backgrounds living in Northern Ireland were given a page each in a book to express their identity and sense of belonging. The book was planted as part of a time capsule in October 2022 for 100 years, to be reopened in October 2122.

“The ladies who contributed to the book were asked to think about, 'How would I want to be represented, what would I want to be represented, what would I want to say?’ and the result is an ornate book which will be kept for 100 years.”

Musicians Artists Refugee Resettlement Scheme

Most recently, CRC has supported part of Beyond Skin’s Musicians Artists Refugee Resettlement Scheme (MARRS), which is designed to help people with asylum-seeking status or refugee status.

“This is another level where we take our 19 years’ experience of using music and the arts as a way to start a dialogue,” Darren says.

“A lot of other organisations are meeting refugees’ immediate needs as they welcome them here, for example, healthcare and so on, but Beyond Skin is injecting a bit of fun stuff as well as having a purpose to utilise and develop their skills.”

Many of those new arrivals are currently living in temporary housing or institutional hotel accommodation.

“It doesn't allow people to integrate and it's not good for your mental health to be accommodated in institutional hotels,” Darren says. “So, we’re supporting a series of workshops and projects that are about getting people meeting other communities, while doing stuff for the arts.”

MARRS was originally set up in 2021 in response to the Afghanistan crisis but has evolved to support people from many different countries, helping over 200 people so far.

And even though there’s a difficult cost-of-living crisis happening, there’s still positive peacebuilding taking place.

“People coming here from war-torn countries have many great skills to offer,” Darren says. “Refugees are creative people, athletes, artists, musicians… These are people who want to be here and build new skills, and Beyond Skin wants to help.”

Since 2004 Beyond Skin has developed and delivered over 5,000 projects in the form of workshops, productions, exhibitions and events. "CRC have very much been a key part of our journey impacting the lives of tens of thousands," Darren says.

Further Info

Read more about Beyond Skin.